Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book I: Canto XV: The Company of Nine

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2022, All Rights Reserved.

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book I, Canto XV

Book I: Canto XV: 1-7: Orlando confronts Agricane, but the rest join the fight

Listen, my lords, if it gives you pleasure;

For the tale of that battle, I’ll recount.

Of the Tartar numbers, beyond measure,

I spoke in my last canto; a true count

Of that host, would, if taken at leisure,

Have set two million curs to its account.

With horn and drum, trumpet-call and yell,

It seemed Earth opened, and the heavens fell.

As when raging storm-winds blow on high,

And, from the north, deliver rain and hail,

Blackening the waves, darkening the sky,

Such that against them few ships can prevail,

So, with as great a fury, by and by,

A shout arose that rang, from cliff and vale.

Orlando grasped his shield, and aimed his lance,

Then, on the Tartar king, made his advance.

Thus, those two mighty lords met together,

With immeasurable power and force,

Though neither triumphed o’er the other,

Nor gained advantage, reeling, in his course,

But, with a lion’s roar, fought to recover,

Drew his sword, and wheeled about his horse.

They began a bitter duel, till the rest

Rode to join them, though not at their request;

Upon which they were forced to draw back,

And cease the contest they’d embarked upon,

Though each hated to turn from the attack

For an instant, convinced that he’d foregone

A certain triumph; though each found no lack

Of aid; the Count combining thereupon

With Brandimarte, and Chiarone,

Oberto, and the bold Aquilante.

The latter rode beside King Hadrian,

Followed by Antifor, and Grifone,

King Ballano between them; now began

An attack on the knights of Agricane

(From every side, bands of others ran,

To harass them, from hill and valley,

With loud cries) by the company of nine;

The scene a challenge to this pen of mine.

Orlando’s band called out: ‘Mindless rabble,

Your cries and shouts, and fury all in vain;

A fire of mere straw, a wordless gabble!

Come to the waiting field now, and be slain!’

Then a fight commenced, amidst the babble,

Twixt noble knights, who honour would maintain;

For Orlando charged towards the citadel,

As, before his sword, those lesser mortals fell,

Till but King Agricane blocked his way,

With his like company, while, galloping

Behind the Count, with his sharp blade in play,

Rode Brandimarte, and the others, slaying,

Till there were none left about them to slay,

While a line of dead led towards the king.

They were but a bow-shot from the city,

When they met the king and his company.

Book I: Canto XV: 8-14: Various duels commence

A giant of a man, Radamanto,

King of Comano, bold and valorous

Fought for King Agricante; head to toe

He measured twenty feet, one enormous

Mass (I told you how he caught Astolfo,

Earlier) yet skilful, and courageous.

Now, lance lowered, he advanced on the foe,

And on the field encountered King Ballano.

Treacherously though, the baleful knight,

Struck Ballano on the back, from the rear,

Whose skills were of no aid in that fight,

For he landed in a ditch, though thrown clear.

Grifone witnessed this disgraceful sight,

And turned on Radamanto, without fear,

And so, the pair commenced a bitter duel,

Both full of hatred, their intentions cruel.

Ballano rose, and showed his valour.

Maintaining himself boldly in the field,

But was unable to mount on his charger,

For a band of men sought to make him yield.

He attacked them all, on foot, however,

With blood-stained sword, and dented shield,

Protecting his friends and, upon the plain,

Left behind a gory mound of the slain.

The King of Sweden, that great champion,

Who went by the name of Santaria,

His lance a stout sapling, poised for action,

Charged Antifor of Albarossia,

But did that knight little harm to mention,

Due to the strength of arm of the latter;

He, parrying the blow, with ample force,

Shattered the former’s lance in its course.

Argante of Russia, stood to one side,

Watching the progress of the encounter,

While Brandimarte often he espied,

Performing wondrous deeds on his courser,

Slaying the lesser rabble far and wide,

Like to a hero from some past era;

Bathed in blood, he cleft many a skull,

With two-handed blows, in that swift cull.

On his huge and fearsome steed, Argante,

With his lance, attacked the dented shield

Of the ardent and powerful Brandimarte,

That scorned his size and strength in the field,

Caring naught for his renown, but, simply,

Gripped his trusted sword, as quickly he wheeled,

And faced the Russian emperor, his foe,

(Bishop Turpin, here, describes every blow).

But I leave that fierce pair for the moment,

(Imagine that each fought hard, with skill)

To speak of the eight who now were bent

On reaching that great fortress on the hill;

For, though they fought on with fierce intent,

More foes arrived, and harassed them still,

As if Hell had replaced the heaps of slain,

So great a host now filled the heaving plain.

Book I: Canto XV: 15-16: The knights fight their way towards the city

Thus, the company delayed not; all nine

Sought to carve their path to the citadel,

Clearing the way, man by man, line by line,

As before them a countless horde now fell,

Though of Ballano there was little sign,

And, thus, his fate was not theirs to foretell.

The remaining eight regrouped, and boldly sought

Sanctuary, though the path was fraught.

Now, once again, they faced the nobler foe,

Those mighty lords renowned for bravery.

Pandragon, Lurcone, Radamanto,

Brontino, Uldano, Saritrone,

Alongside Argante, Poliferno,

Santaria, and King Agricane,

Together with Sweden’s Santaria,

Downed Antifor of Albarossia.

Book I: Canto XV: 17-18: Angelica is under threat of capture

The band of four I spoke of earlier

Still defended the fair Angelica,

With many a deed arousing wonder,

But in a most one-sided encounter.

Agricane fought hard; that warrior,

Thought the lovely maid now his to capture.

And his knights about him fought so fiercely

The four were forced to part from the lady.

She, on viewing the advance of the king,

Knew not what to do, consumed by dread;

Thus, neglecting her possession of the ring,

That would have served her escape had she fled;

Yet, chilled in spirit, she forgot everything,

Every stratagem from her mind had fled,

She only thought to call Orlando’s name

And, weeping, cry for succour, to that same.

Book I: Canto XV: 19-26: Orlando performs heroics

Orlando was not far from the maid,

And heard the voice of her he loved.

His heart, his face, on fire, as was his blade,

Twas as if his helmet a furnace proved.

He ground his teeth, his wrath displayed,

Pressed his courser’s flanks, so deeply moved,

That the steed, Brigliador, tight bound

Twixt his knees, well-nigh fell to the ground.

Yet the brave mount recovered and arose.

Now hear my account of bold Orlando,

That, in high wrath, delivered wondrous blows,

Which, in the telling, speaks of fear and woe.

He hurled his shield away, and faced his foes,

Counting them men of straw, a worthless show,

Rolled his eyes, in wild abandon, to the sky,

Then raised glittering Durindana on high.

He swung at those who stood in his way,

And spied Radamanto, whose great height,

Beyond his own, his crest did thus display

Above the rest; he sliced apart that knight,

Who fell, his guts bared to the light of day,

Yet the Count seemed but refreshed for the fight.

Through Saritrone’s helm, the skull below,

And downwards to the saddle, sank his blow.

Then Orlando thundered on, without cease,

Striking hard with Durindana, all around;

With great power and skill, wielding with ease

That fierce blade, sending men to the ground.

Normana’s mighty lord did little please;

He, through ill-fate, his mortal end had found;

For the Count pierced him deeply, in the thigh;

His shield, steel plate, and mail, apart did fly.

Behold, Pandragon King of Gotia,

Facing the wrath of Count Orlando;

Behind him rode the Russian emperor,

Whom he though would protect him from the foe,

For of the two Argante was the taller,

And topped him by a good two feet or so.

Orlando came towards them in full flight,

And struck at the shoulder of the knight.

His fierce blow cut through Pandragon’s shield,

And swept beneath, cutting him in two,

While Argante, so close, though part-concealed,

Felt the force of the sharp blade, passing through.

It struck him in the gut, as he revealed,

(The emperor was so tall, a giant to view,

Pandragon’s shoulders only reached his waist,

And twas there Orlando’s stroke was placed)

For, with a cry of pain, he turned his steed,

Innards spilling o’er the saddle below,

And then retreated from the field, at speed,

While on sped the relentless Orlando,

To cries for mercy giving little heed,

Lost the compassion he was wont to show,

For he slaughtered every man he could find,

So angered that, to pity, he was blind.

No sight on earth terrified men more

Than that of Count Orlando, in his pride.

No weapons, no armour that they bore,

Protected them; upon the field they died,

The heaps of dead drenching it with gore.

None the sheer power of his sword defied,

Nor his face and helm, afire; none did dare.

The host fled crying out: ‘Beware! Beware!’

Book I: Canto XV: 27-29: He fights and stuns King Agricane

While the Count wrought havoc, as ever,

Agricane was fighting Aquilante,

As, trembling like a leaf, Angelica,

Watched the struggle twixt the two, anxiously.

There, behold, brandishing Durindana,

Came Orlando, the Count of Anglante,

Trampling men, downing many a knight,

While he kept the mighty Tartar in sight.

For, glancing from afar, he’d seen the king,

(He was near to overwhelming Aquilante)

And had heard the maid loudly lamenting.

How riled was he? I know not; but fiercely,

Standing tall in his stirrups, proclaiming

That he’d send this king to Hell, he swiftly

Swung his sword, to strike the monarch dead,

The blade landing on the crown of his head.

Twas a violent and immeasurable blow,

As merciless and fierce as one could be,

And had the helm not been charmed (as you know)

He’d have split the shining steel, easily.

King Agricane, stunned, turned from his foe,

His valiant steed bearing him to safety,

As its master now swayed from side to side,

Borne, senseless, half a league, in that wild ride.

Book I: Canto XV: 30-33: Angelica is snatched away by the enemy

Count Orlando pursued him o’er the field,

Giving his mount, Brigliador, free rein,

While Norway’s Lurcone, with sword and shield,

And Santaria of Sweden, again

Sought to force those round the lady to yield.

Her four guards a stout defence did maintain,

Until so great a host now barred their course

That she was lost; they, left without recourse.

Santaria bore her off, upon his steed,  

His strong left arm clasped tight about her waist,

Lurcone went before, lest she was freed,

While Uldano and Poliferno raced

Behind them. How the maiden wept! Indeed

Twas a piteous fate that she now faced,

Dishevelled, and lamenting, midst the foe

Snatched away, crying out for Orlando.

Oberto, and the valiant Aquilante,

Pierced the enemy ranks, each brave knight

Performing mighty deeds, with Chiarone,

(He was at least their equal in the fight)

As they strove to rescue the fair lady,

Though lacking the essential skill or might,

To prevail, while Agricane awoke,

And regained the battlefield, at a stroke.

Gripping mighty Tranchera, his keen blade,

Seeking vengeance, towards the Count he rode,

Who, in turn, saw the capture of the maid,

And sped towards her, as he yet bestowed

Many a blow, while she called to him for aid.

And such furious strength and rage he showed

Not all the world could have held him back;

He ground his teeth, and swept to the attack.

Book I: Canto XV: 34-36: Orlando slays Lurcone, King of Norway

He first encountered Norway’s Lurcone,

Who, as you’ve heard, rode ahead of the rest,

Striking him on the helmet so fiercely

(Though with the flat, the stroke not his best,

For the sword turned in his hand, awkwardly)

That the blow was mortal; then on he pressed,

While Lurcone’s broken helm hit the ground

Spraying bone and brains, and blood all around,

And what was strange and new was that his head

Had vanished in a thousand fragments there,

For the helm was emptied, as he fell dead,

Naught left within but shreds of flesh and hair;

Durindana had shattered it, as I said.

Santaria, stunned by the whole affair,

Shook with fear; twould have been his fate to yield,

But for the fact he grasped a human shield.

Orlando reached him; he could only flee,

While the other could hardly strike a blow,

For fear he might harm the maid, while she

Cried as loud as she could, despite the foe:

‘If you love me, Orlando, hear my plea,

Slay me with your own hand, mercy show;

Rather than let this cur bear me away,

Twere better, in truth, to die this very day.’

Book I: Canto XV: 37-40: He kills Santaria of Sweden, and frees Angelica

At this the Count was so troubled in mind

He scarcely knew what action he should take,

But, skilled in battle, a fresh course did find,

Sheathed his sword, lest he make a mistake,

And charged at King Santaria, resigned

To employing fists alone, for the maid’s sake,

While the king, seeing him without a blade,

Thinking to slay him, now seemed unafraid.

He clasped the lady to his left-hand side;

His right hand grasped the hilt of his sword.

But the thrust at Orlando that he tried

Failed to pierce the charmed hide of that lord.

The Count, scarce hesitating, veered aside,

Then struck out fiercely with his fist, and scored

A sharp blow to the head, that slew the king,

Who fell, but released the maid, in falling;

Blood and brains from his nose and mouth did flow,

While streams of crimson blood ran down his face.

Yet a greater task lay before Orlando;

He gathered up the maid, and off did race.

A turn of speed Brigliador did show

Wondrous to behold; at lightning pace,

They passed the wall, and reached the citadel.

Angelica felt safe there, for a spell,

But twas Truffaldino who held the keep.

He saw the knights draw near, and barred the gate.

He taunted them; the walls were high and steep;

He swore that he’d defend them, soon and late.

Sharp spears and stones he launched into the deep,

While Angelica trembled at their fate,

Like to die of grief, fearful and dismayed,

To find that she, alas, was thus betrayed.

Book I: Canto XV: 41-46: She and the knights are assailed on all sides

Agricane’s dense ranks now drew closer,

Led by that king, with the fierce Uldano,

A mighty force that all the plain did cover,

And the slopes above. As for Orlando,

Who could now describe his plight; his anger;

His fear? Not for himself; none did he show,

But for the maid he clasped with his left hand,

While with the right his sword he did command.

The Count’s fears were only for the lady,

For his own safety he cared not a jot;

Though pinned, indeed, between Agricane

And Truffaldino, death would seem their lot.

The assault grew fiercer, for the ruined city

Was filled with foes, all weariness forgot.

Such a cloud of spears and darts filled the sky,

That the light of day seemed to fail, and die.

King Hadrian, and bold Aquilante,

With Chiarone, faced the Tartar king,

While the lion-hearted Brandimarte,

Afire, amidst their foes, his aid did bring.

Meantime, Oberto and brave Grifone

Performed as great a task, both resisting

The barrage from above; while Orlando

Yet sought to petition Truffaldino.

He prayed him to have pity on the lady,

Now exposed to so desperate a plight,

Yet Truffaldino, devoid of mercy,

Refused to listen to the courteous knight,

For no man ever showed such treachery,

Neath the moon, or took such cruel delight

In others’ suffering; the Count begged in vain,

His anger grew, till his eyes blazed again.

He pressed closer to the towering keep,

Protecting Angelica with his shield,

A hard look in his eyes, his colour deep,

And sought Truffaldino, his wrath revealed,

For though, with the sword, he’d rather reap

Great renown than with threats make weak men yield,

Yet he roared with such power, there below,

The skies shook, not merely Truffaldino.

Orlando ground his teeth, crying: ‘Traitor!

There’ll be no escape for the likes of you!

Four hours, and the walls will seem lower,

For they’ll fall to my sword sharp and true.

I will seize the keep; and then I’ll slaughter

You, you wretch, and all your treacherous crew,

For I’ll see you hang before me, and, say I,

You’ll bow your head and weep, ere you die!’

Book I: Canto XV: 47-52: A pact is made with Truffaldino

Since the Count shouted, in a voice so loud

That it seemed far beyond human power.

Truffaldino’s timid spirit was soon cowed,

Like many a traitor’s; close to the tower

He’d seen Orlando, standing tall and proud

In the saddle, bring ruin, in an hour,

On seven kings (count them!) there below,

Each pierced or broken by a single blow.

Thus, Truffaldino saw before his eyes,

Or seemed to see, the citadel brought low,

And its shattered stones tumbling likewise

On King Agricane, the Count’s great foe.

Now, peering from the tower, he thought it wise

(The Count’s eyes were ablaze, all did show

His wrath) to speak humbly, and replied:

‘Sire, hear me, though it cannot be denied,

And I deny it not, that I deceived

Angelica; by God above, I swear

Twas not a thing I’d ever have conceived,

But for my two comrade’s folly; who’ll dare

No doubt, to say the treatment they’ve received

Proves my treachery; a thing most unfair,

For I but seized them, locked them in a cell,

And, by doing so, saved the citadel.

Those two, Torindo and Sacripante,

Have wronged me, and yet neither will forgive,

And, if allowed, they’ll murder me surely,

Being the stronger; yet tis right I live.

I say this, for you’ll not enter freely,

Unless your word of honour you now give

That you’ll seek to defend me if you do,

By force if needed; and I ask this, too,

Of all the others of your company

That would enter upon the fortress here.

You must, one and all, swear to protect me,

And be my champions, and so appear

In the field, to fight all who challenge me,

So, that none upon this Earth I need fear;

And, fully armed, with your banners unfurled,

Be my true defence, against all the world.’

Orlando cried he’d not swear such an oath,

But rather glared, and threatened the traitor,

But the maid clung to his neck (nothing loathe)

And begged him to yield, and thus save her,

Till, in the end, the Count conceded both

To her prayer and the base villain’s offer,

Which all the other knights likewise agreed

To honour fully, in both word and deed.

Book I: Canto XV: 53-55: The knights enter the keep; Orlando sounds his challenge

Truffaldino, skilled at arranging peace,

Having thus achieved what he desired.

The drawbridge and portcullis did release,

And allowed them to enter as required.

There was naught left to eat except a piece

Of hard, dried, salted horsemeat, it transpired.

Orlando who was attacked by hunger,

Though it scarce sufficed him, ate a quarter,

The remainder was shared amongst the rest.

There was clearly a need to seek for more;

Brandimarte, at Hadrian’s behest,

Joined with him, while Chiarone swore

With Oberto, and Orlando, that their quest

Would bring the better fare to their door.

Meantime, with his brother, Aquilante,

Grifone had the gates closed securely,

Then ordered fresh guards to man the wall,

To act as sentries, and observe the foe,

For as to trust, the pair placed none at all

In that evil creature Truffaldino.

The dawn was breaking; Night drew back her pall;

The glowing sun had not yet risen though,

When Orlando, having armed, blew his horn,

His mighty challenge welcoming the morn.

That shrill war-cry threatened death, by its sound,

To his enemies scattered o’er the plain,

Scaring every cowardly wretch around;

Their faces paled, as the call arose again.

They beat their hands, wept, or fled o’er the ground,

For the previous day they’d felt the pain

Of fatal wounds inflicted on some other

That had felt the weight of Orlando’s anger.

Book I: Canto XV: 56-60: Agricane sounds his own war-horn in reply

That great host, or at least the larger part,

Ran for the nearest place where they might hide,

As their angry leaders sought to impart

An ounce of courage, while the king supplied

Threats enough for the craven horde to start

Once more, arming themselves; the noise defied

Description; Agricane, there did stand,

Ordering the ranks, naked sword in hand;

If he saw a man unarmed, or gone astray,

He’d lay him dead or stunned on the ground.

When the troops had re-gathered, it was day;

He could gaze at his army massed around.

From the hill-slopes to the river, and away

O’er the plain, a good four leagues, rose the sound

Of weapons, shouts, and armour, on each side,

While its ranks did that space completely hide.

Bold Agricane marvelled at the sight,

Wondering how such a host could fear

The deeds of a single Christian knight,

For pale and trembling many did appear.

Alone on his courser, that man of might,

Swore he would slay, with sword or lance or spear,

The Count Orlando, and then take and bind

His company, mere children to his mind;

And he, alone, would maintain the field

Against whoever issued from the keep.

To proclaim his skill with sword and shield,

His horn he blew; the tone rang loud and deep.

In the next canto, all will be revealed,

As to how that pair fresh honours did reap,

Each man dealing many a mighty blow.

And there, again, I’ll speak of Rinaldo.  

The End of Book I: Canto XV of ‘Orlando Innamorato’

Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book I, Canto XV - End